Saturday, 31 January 2015

Port Douglas

We spent 4 days in Port Douglas at the end of my parents' four-week trip to Australia at the beginning of January. They were flying back to Canada from Cairns, however on the advice of a lot of friends we chose to stay here instead of Cairns itself. And boy am I glad we did! I loved Port Douglas. Basically, it looks and feels like you would expect all of Australia to look like -  lush vegetation and beautiful beaches. It is about an hour from Cairns, and we drove here from Airlie Beach (not recommended!)

January is probably not the best time to visit. It's the wet season, and we did have rain while we were there, although it was warm rain, which is a nice change from the cold and windy rain we get here in Melbourne! It is also extremely humid, and so you basically need to be by water too cool yourself off at all times. Unfortunately January is stinger season, so you are limited to a small section of Four Mile Beach that has a net around it for swimming. We had a pool at our apartment so opted to use that instead of going to the beach one day. The upside is that it is not overrun with tourists at this time of year, so there is plenty of accommodation and it was pretty reasonably priced (less than $200 per night for a really nice apartment for six).

The main street has plenty of very good bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from, along with some decent shopping. But the main draws are two beautiful World Heritage sites: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

We did an Outer Great Barrier Reef cruise with a company called Quicksilver. We were on a 45 meter Wavepiercing Catamaran, which has to be one of the biggest boats I've ever seen. They advertise the smoothest ride possible out to the Outer Reef, however we had some quite choppy weather and there were plenty of people looking very green on the way out! My parents, Mike and Ashley decided to do an introductory dive once they got there, and Andy and I opted to go on a helicopter ride as we both have done some diving in the past. The helicopter ride was stunning, however the water was high so it was difficult to see any sea life from above. It was pretty cool, however I'm not sure it was worth the $165 cost!

Learning to Dive
Helicopter ride!

There was an area to snorkel roped off beside the boat. Getting in was pretty crowded; lots of people that didn't seem to know how to swim flapping around everywhere, but once you swam out a bit it was much better. The coral here was pretty spectacular, especially as you swam further out. However there wasn't a lot of fish here, and the water was pretty wavy so I did prefer the snorkeling we did around Haymen Island in the Whitsundays.

Pretty coral
We spent a lazy day around the pool before saying goodbye to Mike, Ashley, mom and dad. Very sad times! However, my mom and dad have already booked flights to come back and visit in August, hooray! (More on that to come!)

Last night together selfie!

Mossman Gorge swimming hole

The last day of the holiday was just Andy and I, and we decided to drive up to the Daintree Rainforest. I don't think Andy could take another day of just laying by the pool. Our first stop was Mossman Gorge, about 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. We actually could have stayed here all day. You get a bus through an indigenous village (or you could walk, but it was extremely hot and humid) to the start of numerous walking tracks and an amazing swimming hole. We didn't stay long as we had already planned to drive further into the Daintree, but this was well worth the stop and I do wish we had brought the others here!

 Leaving Mossman Gorge we headed further north and got the Daintree Ferry to cross over to the Cape Tribulation area. The ferry is not cheap ($23 round trip a pretty short ride) but it is the only way to access this part of the rainforest. Our first stop was to get some lunch at Mason's Cafe. This place was a pretty crappy run down diner, serving all sorts of Australian delicacies such as kangaroo, crocodile and emu burgers. I was not feeling particularly adventurous (partly due to the fact that this place was pretty run down) so stuck to something normal like a BLT. The main reason we stopped here was that this is an amazing swimming hole behind it. This was probably my favourite thing we did on this leg of the trip. The water was clear and cold (again, the heat and humidity was getting unbearable) and there were rope swings into the water. After spending some time here, we drove on to Cape Tribulation and then headed back to Port Douglas for our last night on holiday. There were lots of cool tours advertised for the Daintree, so I think if we went back here we'd check out one of those as you would probably learn a lot about the flora and fauna in the rainforest.

Really??? Ew!!

Cape Tribulation
The next day we flew out of Cairns at 4pm, so we decided to drive into Cairns for the day. What a mistake! Not only was it hotter and more humid than Port Douglas, there was also not much to see or do. We spent sometime in the outdoor lagoon pool on the Esplanade. The facilities around here are great for kids, the most amazing playground nearby and and a safe place to swim, along with toilets and showers which are all free. We stayed for about an hour but it was just too hot! I don't know how people live here in the summer, I was dying to get back to Melbourne weather! (Who would have thought I'd ever say that?) We ended up going to a shopping centre just so we could be in some air conditioning for the afternoon before heading off to the airport. I think we were at the point where we just wanted to get home!

Back in Melbourne we had 2 weeks off until school started, the first of which Andy was ill and spent in bed! We've now been back to reality at work for a week and this holiday seems like such a long time ago now. I loved Port Douglas though and would go back in a heartbeat, however I would probably pick a different time of year next time!

Check out Andy's video of our holiday here:


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Day 2 Sailing and a LONG Drive to Port Douglas

We woke up on the second day of our sailing trip to fluffy white clouds and blue skies, hurray! No more rain! However our joy was somewhat short-lived, as the boat seemed to be infested with March flies. I took my breakfast and tea above deck to try and get away from them but they were just as bad as inside the boat. Breakfast was a less than serene affair, trying to balance my plate of food and swat flies at the same time. The deck of the boat soon looked like a fly cemetery with dead flies everywhere. I could not wait to get the boat moving! A shame as the weather was beautiful, the water was calm, and the view of the surrounding islands beautiful, however I was finding it a challenge to appreciate it all. I know it sounds like I'm complaining too much here about these flies, but they were pretty incessant, constantly buzzing around you and landing on you, and just generally very irritating.

Anyway we finally got going, no sailing again to begin with, heading toward Blue Pearl Bay, on the northern end of Haymen Island to do some snorkelling. Haymen Island has a luxury resort and is apparently where all the rich and famous go when they visit the Whitsundays. Weirdly, the flies were almost non-existent around the island. Our crew speculated that the air is spayed with something to get rid of the flies for the guests staying on Haymen Island. I'm not sure how true that is but it wouldn't be surprising!

In order to get ready to snorkel we had to put on our stinger suits. These look sort of like wetsuits but are not nearly as thick, all lycra with a fleece lining inside. They are to protect you from the deadly Box and Irukandji Jellyfish which are prevalent in the waters around northern Queensland at this time of year. Risk of being stung by a deadly jellyfish aside, the water is absolutely beautiful in the Whitsundays. The temperature is a lovely 28 degrees and so clear you can nearly see the bottom even without your snorkel mask. The coral here is fringing, which means it grows directly from the shore, and the range of fish we saw was amazing. The craziest thing we saw were Mauri Wrasse fish, which were huge, at least a metre long. Andy and I spotted a few and I sort of freaked out and tried to swim away, only to turn around in circles and realize we were surrounded by about 15 of them! Only we weren't really surrounded as they were below us; it's funny how the water doesn't seem that deep when it is so clear.

The rest of the sailing trip was pretty good that day. We had nice weather, stopped at another snorkelling site, and had some pretty epic sailing on the way back to Airlie Beach. The wind was strong and the boat was angled so steeply that as we were sitting on the edge our feet touched the water! Mike and Andy helped to put the sails up again, and I think our captain Mark did something wrong with the position of the boat, as one of the sails was loose and flapping in the wind. A rope at the end hit Sean (crew) on the face and Mike on the back. Sean was not too happy with Mark about that! He had a cut just below his eye that was bleeding and Mike had a pretty nasty bruise on his back. Luckily Mike was not too upset, rather he was very proud of his sailing injury!

All in all I enjoyed the sailing trip, but having bad weather can really put a damper on things. And in the end I was glad we only did one night on the boat instead of two - I'd had enough by the time we got back to Airlie Beach and was happy to be back on land. Recently I read the book Love With A Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. The author is an Australian who initially has a fear of the ocean but decides, after much deliberation, to sail across the Pacific with her Argentinian boyfriend (it's his lifelong dream). After a harrowing crossing of the ocean, they sail to various islands in the Pacific, and live for months on their sailboat. Although you do read about all the horrible bits, it does sound amazing and I remember thinking "maybe I should learn to sail". This trip totally turned me off of this idea, I now have absolutely no desire to ever sail or live on a boat!

Back in Airlie Beach, where we missed the rain and arrived to a double rainbow, we had dinner at Beaches Bar & Grill as they had a $15 dinner and drink deal. We learned here that you get what you pay for in terms of food and weren't very impressed with our meals, but it was pretty cheap and so I guess you can't complain. Mike, Andy and Dad went to go play Big Buck, this arcade game, and Ashley, Mom and I were left alone at our table... but not for long! A rowdy group of boys (ok, men) found their way over to our table. We found out they were on a Stag do, and they absolutely LOVED it when they found out that we were with my mom! They would not leave her alone, everyone in the party wanted to talk to Barb! Needless to say they were pretty embarrassed when our men came back to our table, and hastily left us!

The next day we collected our rental cars from Europcar and commenced the longest drive EVER from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas. When we were planning this trip we looked at various options in terms of transport for this leg of the trip. Flights would have been good, but they were pretty expensive by the time we looked at them, nearly $400 each if I remember correctly. Plus flights would only get us to Cairns, so we still would have had to rent cars or take a bus from Cairns to Port Douglas, and then back again. There is a bus option as well, but we thought that having cars would be a more flexible option. This was still pretty expensive though, renting 2 cars plus petrol for the drive plus the 4 days in Port Douglas ended up costing just under $1200 for the six of us. Still cheaper than flights though, and it meant we had a car the whole time we were in Port Douglas as well. But the drive was pretty long and boring. The only benefit was that I actually drove about half the time, giving me some good left side of the road driving experience, and a bit more confidence to start trying to drive more in Melbourne again. I don't think I've driven at all since last summer, and the more I put it off the more stressed I get about it. 

We made a stop for lunch in Townsville, which is about 4 hours from Airlie Beach. Not much to say about this place except that our lunch was excellent, at a place called The Balcony. I highly recommend the waffles, which came with grilled bananas, honeycomb, ice cream and caramel sauce. They almost made this drive worth it. Almost.

We were actually making pretty good time until we were about 40 minutes from Port Douglas, on Captain Cook highway. It had started raining pretty heavily and was dark out when we started being passed by police cars and ambulances. That could only mean one thing... there was an accident up ahead. A few minutes later we were stopped by police and told we would have to take an alternate route. Captain Cook highway is a one lane coastal road and there are frequent accidents which close down the highway. The detour around is an extra two hour drive. This was pretty demoralizing, as we were all pretty tired at this point and we were so close to Port Douglas! We stopped at a nearby beach cafe which had just stopped serving food (of course!) but they were so nice and offered to make us some chips and wedges anyway. After refuelling on carbs and coffee we headed back to our cars to make the journey. We ended up arriving in Port Douglas after 11pm absolutely exhausted, but delighted with our accommodation, a three bedroom apartment just off the main street. We pretty much went directly to bed, looking forward to waking up and exploring what Port Douglas had to offer.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Airlie Beach & Day 1 Sailing in the Whitsundays

Ok so I've had a nice long break from the blog, owing mainly to my parents, brother Mike and his girlfriend Ashley coming to Australia for a visit. We visited Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne (of course), Apollo Bay, The Whitsunday Islands and Port Douglas over the 4 weeks they were here, and I am going to attempt to write about all these places before we start back at school in less than two weeks. This first post is about Airlie Beach and our first day of a two-day sailing trip through The Whitsundays Islands. The day after New Year's we flew into Proserpine airport from Melbourne and from there got a shuttle bus ($18) to Airlie Beach. Proserpine is probably the best airport to fly into if you are visiting the Whitsundays as it is the closest to Airlie Beach, or you can also fly directly into Hamilton Island, which is the most popular island in terms of resorts etc.

We stayed at Magnums Backpackers in Airlie Beach for the nights before and after our sailing trip. We booked our trip through them which meant we got one night free. I was a bit wary when we first entered Magnums through their huge outdoor bar and entrance to the nightclub (advertising Jelly Wrestling that night) thinking it would be really noisy at night. But, I was pleasantly surprised by this place. The rooms closest to the bar were the dorm rooms, and then the double rooms, where we were staying, were a little further back. They were (crucially at this time of year) air conditioned, and every 3 rooms share a bathroom, which isn't too bad. 

Rum Tasting
After dropping our bags off in our rooms we decided to get dinner, and using my trusty Urban Spoon app, we decided on a place called Fish D'Vine. What a find this place was! I highly recommend it, delicious fish and seafood that you can pick out yourself from the counter, and within the restaurant was a Rum Bar, which boasts 200 different types of rum. My dad, Andy and Mike basically drank rum non-stop this whole trip, so they were in their element here, and we spent the evening tasting different rums.

The view from our room in Magnums - rainy morning!
The next morning we woke to torrential rain - not a great start to our sailing trip! Thankfully it cleared a little by the time we boarded the boat. The forecast had called for non-stop rain for the whole time we were in the Whitsundays, so we were trying not to get too despondent about this, as out on the islands the weather can be very different to on land. The company we booked with were called iSail Whitsundays and we were sailing on the Iceberg, a racing sailboat that raced in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race in the 90s. There were 12 people on the boat, a family from Germany and a couple from Switzerland, plus the two crew, Mark and Sean. 

Day 1 of our trip was less than perfect, to be honest... but this was mainly due to the weather. Although it wasn't constantly raining, we did have periods of rain and it was a bit cold above deck. Once we hit open water the water was pretty choppy and I went below deck for a while to get out of the rain. This was a big mistake as I was then feeling pretty seasick so had to go back up top. After quite a few hours of being on the boat (we weren't able to sail at this point as the winds weren't blowing in the right direction) we had our first stop on Whitsunday Island. I was pretty happy to get off the boat at the point, although that was short lived. As soon as we stepped on the island we were attacked by monster flies... we later found out they are called March flies, and they bite you looking for blood just like a mosquito does. The six of us were the first lot to be dropped off on the island while Mark went back in the speedboat to get the other six from the Iceberg.  We must have looked ridiculous, dancing around trying to swat at the constant flies. Mark and Sean advised us to let them land on us and then whack them, they are pretty stupid and easy to kill once they have landed, although it takes a little time to get used to letting them land on you. I think it would have been nice if the tour company had advised us to bring some bug spray, as we were totally not expecting this!

More rain in the distance

Anyway, we hiked up the island for about 10-15 minutes to Hill Inlet lookout, giving a breathtaking view of Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven Beach is regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world, due to the pristine white sand which is so fine it felt like you were walking on silk. We were dropped off at the beach for 2 hours which normally would have been heaven, if it wasn't windy and raining!! We were pretty much the only people on the whole 7km stretch of beach and had no idea what to do for 2 hours in the rain on the beach! The water was pretty warm at least (28 degrees) so you could still swim, and the rain did stop so we ended up just walking up and down the beach. Its a bit of a disappointment when you visit one of the world's most beautiful beaches and it's raining, but it is the wet season in this part of Australia so we should have been expecting something like this might happen.

The view from Hill Inlet lookout

After Whitehaven beach we headed back to water that was protected from the wind and waves and had dinner on the boat under the stars. We were actually able to sail during this part of the trip, and Mike and Andy got involved in putting up the sails. Dinner was pretty nice, and we were very impressed with the food that Sean made for all our meals on the boat. Nothing fancy, we had Gnocchi and salad, but it was pretty tasty. We did have to be prepared for "Bullet" winds however, these huge gusts of wind that would come out of nowhere through the funnel created by the two islands we were docked in between. We also had a bit of rain in the evening, and would have to race around the boat closing all the hatches so that our beds wouldn't get wet down below. Thankfully though it didn't rain throughout the night, as if we had had to sleep with all the hatches closed I think we would have suffocated down in our tiny cabins all night! I actually had a great sleep that night, which I was totally not expecting, rocked to sleep by the gentle waves and cooled off by the breeze off the sea. 

Captain Andy!
Stay tuned for day 2 of our sailing trip, my mom being hit on by a bunch of guys on a stag do, and our dreadful drive from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas.